Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Kindling the young minds

I remember this was one of my early stories written almost two decades back and an apt one for Teachers Day. Many of my current readers might have missed it.

Our former President Dr.Kalam always exhorted students to dream, hoping that dreams may ignite their minds to accomplish great things. This wasn’t so a few decades ago for back, as then a dream was associated with slumber and I still remember getting whacked for yawning in class. Yawn, I did not know then, is a prelude to sleep often induced by boring subjects or people.

No one explained why the paper planes that fly in the classroom glide effortlessly at times but nose-dive most often. Nobody ever asked such questions as minds were not encouraged to be inquisitive. It would be presumptuous to interrupt the class with questions and riskier if they turned out to be foolish.
I was in class VIII when the English teacher asked us to write an essay on what we would like to be when we grew up. As a child, I fancied being a steam engine driver with the thrill of driving the engine in the dead of night across the fields accompanied by the rhythm of the wheels and occasional long whistle, watching the stars and stopping at stations to drink coffee from the IR restaurants without the risk of ever missing the train. But afraid of being reprimanded, I wrote about some mundane ambition.

My friend Chellappa, more imaginative and bolder, refused to divulge the subject he wrote about. In the last hour of the day, the English teacher walked in. From his ominous look, we could sense that something untoward was about to happen.

“Chellappa,” he bellowed, “come here.” Chellappa walked with trepidation towards the table.

“So, you want to be a scientist,” he roared and laughed hysterically like Gabbar Singh in Sholay. The entire class joined the laughter only to be stopped abruptly by the tight slap my friend got. “What is your optional subject,” the teacher asked.

Chellappa mumbled, “Book-keeping.”

“How dare you want to be a scientist, having chosen book-keeping,” he demanded. 

My pal replied meekly, “Sir, you asked us to write what we would wish to be and not what we would be.” Rebuffed, the teacher dismissed him from the class.

The teacher also ridiculed a boy who had a squeaky voice and wished to be a playback singer and another who took part only in the lemon-and-spoon race but wished to excel as an Olympic runner. Then, there was the boy who opted for Tamil medium on account of his poor scores in English, but wished to be a playwright in English like Shakespeare.

The unimaginative teacher, who had neither vision nor compassion, smothered all the harmless instincts of the children. The young minds, peculiarly sensitive to ridicule, never recovered from the shock.

Luckily, this teacher was an exception. I have known several scholarly teachers who responded to their calling with sincerity and passion despite the pittance they received those years. They shaped minds and stoked fires that lay latent in young hearts. They would discover talent-academic, aesthetic and technical-and stimulate and guide the children to become proficient in their chosen skills. 

The teacher should act as a trigger, letting children roam free in their minds and seek answers to their unresolved questions. He should rejoice at the discovery of kindled spirits and provide the answers wherever he can.

Friday, September 1, 2023

The inexplicable power to foresee (914)


“What is for dinner? “she heard her husband’s gruff voice as he ambled along towards the dining table.

 Ranjana said “Dinesh, go and wash your hand before you sit for dinner”.

 This made him angry and he pounced on her. Ranjana felt a slice of sharp pain in her arm as she defended herself from Dinesh. He looked scary with bloodshot eyes, slobbering mouth and a scowl of hate on his face. “I hate you, you slut. How dare you to talk back to me’ he said in anger as he raised his hand to slash her again.

She hit him on his wrist and the knife flew from his hand to a corner. He started blabbering and of late she was afraid of hearing him talking in foul language. An alcoholic beyond redemption, he was the antithesis of what she thought he would be, a suave, handsome, diligent, upcoming executive and a loving husband. Her marriage was a total failure and luckily, they had no children.

It was only yesterday evening, she remembered, he was sipping his tea in the sit out while reading the newspaper. Suddenly he put the cup down and said “Check whether Peter’s wife is Okay. She was admitted in hospital I feel. I have a queasy feeling.”

On the next day when Ranjana rang her friend who was living adjacent to Peters, she was shocked to hear that Peter’s wife suddenly took ill only the previous night around 1 am and passed away despite emergency treatment. Ranjana looked at her sleeping husband with horror when it dawned on her that Dinesh had a premonition of the impending death.

She recalled how one day a few months back when they were walking in a mall, Dinesh pointed out to a middle-aged man with baskets on both hands and said that he would fall down on the escalator. She felt Dinesh was talking insensibly as the man appeared strong and walking with firm steps. As they were climbing down to the lower level in escalator, she saw to her great shock, the middle-aged man suddenly folding in two and falling on the moving escalator few steps ahead of her. A crowd gathered and rushed him to emergency. She asked Dinesh how he knew he would fall. Dinesh said it was just a hunch and he really did not know why he felt like that. She had dismissed then the event was sheer coincidence. But, in retrospect after connecting with Mrs. Peter’s recent demise, she was convinced now that Dinesh had some inexplicable power to foresee events.

She looked at her arm as blood was oozing out. He did not stir to help her  but shouted instead,” How dare you hit me, you stinking slut. I hate you and am leaving you for ever. Take it from me, you will see no more of me. You can romance unfettered with your office manager. Don’t think I am not aware of your shenanigans. I am fed up with you.“  He went out blabbering nonstop till she heard his car start and leave the house hurriedly.

She was outraged at his insinuation though there was no such romance with her colleague except they were good friends. Her boss knew she was married and maintained the friendship at a decent level. She would often feel that he would have been a better choice than Dinesh but knew the mistake had been made.

She did not feel like eating after Dinesh’s sudden exit without a trace of remorse. She became morose that her marriage had entered the shoal of mutual dissatisfaction and incompatibility. All her efforts could not wean him away from excessive liquor into a responsible and understanding way of life. She went to the sofa to calm down her agitated mind and fell asleep. She must have slept long for it was 3.30 AM when the telephone rang shrilly.

A sudden fear engulfed her. She did not like Dinesh talking of leaving her permanently. There was a cramp inside her stomach as she clutched the receiver to hear a male voice. “Is it Dinesh’s house….? I am sorry, madam, to disturb you. Are you Mrs. Dinesh? Oh oh….er …er. There has been a ghastly accident. Maybe he drove while fully drunk. Can you come to the hospital at…”

She did not want to hear anymore, knowing what was in store. She slammed the phone down She dreaded to visualize what must have happened, as memories of the middle-aged man falling on the escalator and Mrs. Peter’s sudden death rushed in her mind.

The phone rang repeatedly. She decided finally to listen, come what may. As she held the phone on her ear, she heard the same voice telling her surprisingly in assuring tone, “Do not fear as all is well. You did not allow me to complete. Your husband is miraculously safe and free from danger despite many fractures and abrasions in many places. It will take a long time to become alright. He is now fully conscious and wants to have a word with you even as I hold the phone near his mouth.”

“Terribly sorry, Ranju. It will never happen again, I promise you. Won’t you come immediately to see and caress me?” he pleadingly mumbled in a slow voice.

“Do not worry. I will be there within 30 minutes,” she assured him.

Ranjana’s spirit soared as she happily realized that his dreaded power was just sheer coincidence even as she called for an Uber taxi.


Monday, July 17, 2023

The cryptic letter

 As she turned the car into the driveway, she found an envelope projecting from the mail box,  She found her name Menaka Rajadurai written clearly with proper address in long hand. It was a printed envelope with the address of a building, Shoba Villa, on the bottom left and from a city about 150 miles away. Wondering from whom this could be, she pulled the white sheet from inside.

"Dear Menaka,

Your presence is urgently required at 4pm tomorrow at Shoba Villa adjacent to the popular stores ‘Rajas’ at the main bus stand. You will realize the extreme necessity of your visit when you come. You will not feel sorry for having come. Please do not fail to come.


Menaka was wondering who the writer could be, for what purpose and why this cryptic letter. She missed her granny now. She always had an answer for all her doubts and questions. She passed away three months ago. It was her granny who brought her up ever since Menaka’s mother Shobana passed away when Menaka was hardly five years. The relationship between her dad and granny soured when he married someone else within three months of her mom's demise. There was some heated exchange of words and he stopped coming and even got in touch with his daughter. There was no contact thereafter and his whereabouts were not even known.

Menaka was brought up single handedly by her wealthy granny in great comfort. After her Master's degree, she is working as a mid-level officer in a bank. Her granny's only grouse was that though 27 years, Menaka had not found the right man for herself. The old woman wanted her well settled in life before her end. But that was not happening.

Menaka was now alone with a reliable maid working from granny’s days and her thoughts went back to her dad when she saw the letter. There is a hazy memory of a tall man from the photograph of her mom and dad taken soon after their wedding. She could never see the picture again. She suspected her granny must have hidden it away. On only one occasion, her dad had come to her school and asked her teacher's permission to take her out for one hour. That was refused as he had come without her guardian's approval. He gave her a silver locket with Jesus’ picture and said he loved her a lot. Menaka said she missed him too and wanted him to come frequently. Granny was furious when she heard about it and she did not know what had happened but he stopped visiting her thereafter.

She reached the indicated house by 3.45 pm. It was a very large bungalow with a number of cars parked all over the driveway. There was curiously an ambulance too. She saw there were lot of people looking grim in the long verandah and the adjacent hall. She saw some of them go around the wooden box kept at one side of the hall placing wreaths. She was in panic as fear enveloped her whether it could be her dear dad. Tears flowed from her eyes and his last visit at the school came to her mind. She started sobbing standing on the verandah when many turned towards her. Was it for seeing her dad for the last time, Chelladurai had called her, she wondered? Summoning courage she started moving towards the hall, when she felt an arm touch her shoulder. She turned to see a well-dressed person in his late fifties looking at her with concern.

“Menaka, I assume. I was waiting for you in my office. When you did not turn up, I thought you might have strayed here. Come with me" he said

She followed him meekly to a large drawing room. “I can understand you are in shock and confusion. I am sorry to break the news that your dear dad passed away last night.”

"Oh, no, it cannot be,” she shrieked and started crying. Recovering composure in a while, she asked, “How did it happen? Was he ailing?”

"I have no idea. But he was found dead on his bed early in the morning. He usually gets up very early. Probably he died in sleep. He was suffering from sleep Apnea since a few years,” he said

“May I know who you are? Are you related to my dad? How did you know my address?” she asked.

“Sorry, I should have properly introduced myself. I am Chelladurai, his close confidant and his junior partner. You can call me Uncle. After he lost his second wife, he requested me to reside with him. I assist him in managing the household and his business activities. though I keep myself in low profile. He had a great trust in me and confided all his personal details, how he greatly loved you but had to keep away because of your granny,” he explained.

She looked around the large hall and saw on the wall two photographs, one of which was of her mother and the other possibly stepmother. She was silent, lost in the thoughts of her mom.

He broke the silence saying,” I am sure you recognize your mom; I will take you to the hall in a while after you freshen yourself. Do you love your dad so much? You have hardly seen him except once when very young. Do you remember the occasion when a silver locket was given by him?" he asked.

“How do you know” she asked. I have it always in my hand bag. Yes, I love him deeply no matter what my granny felt about him. He is my daddy and no one can take that away from me."

“Come on. Let us go to the hall. Be brave and do not buckle under pressure. There will be many of his friends and customers there,” he advised as he led her.

With mixed feelings of sadness and confusion, she looked at the dead person in the long box from head to foot several times trying to recollect in vain the face of her dad she had seen at school two decades back. Many of those present there commiserated with her telling her their connections with him and sharing some anecdotes of his good nature.

It was then a posse of police constables entered and ordered the ambulance men to carry the box with the body to certain hospital.

The inspector who had accompanied the constables apologized to the assembled people for carrying the body for post mortem as a regular procedure when someone in good health died mysteriously. You can disperse and will hear from the household members in due course. We have some routine work to do here.

After the people left, the Inspector and Menaka retired to the living room along with Chelladurai. The inspector turned abruptly to Menaka and asked her, Who are you? How are you related to the person who has passed away? What are you and where do you live? Tell me truthfully.”

“Surely, I will tell you all. I am the dead man’s only daughter by his first wife. In the meantime, please tell me why police are involved and whether there are any suspicious circumstances around his death,” she asked.

“Yes, very much. I shall take you into confidence after I have heard you.”

 I am Menaka and I work in XYZ bank as a senior executive. I live in the adjacent town and was with my grandmother till three months back when she passed away. My mother passed away when I was about five years and my dad married someone else within months and left us. The relations between him and grandma were strained. I did not meet my father till he came one day to the school to see me and take me out for one hour. The school refused permission and he gave me a silver locket with Jesus’ picture. That was the last I saw him,” and paused.

“Interesting, please proceed,” prompted the inspector.

She explained,” I got this cryptic letter from Chelladurai uncle and came hurriedly hoping to hear some news about my dad. It was then he told me to my great shock the dead man is my dad. He said that my dad was his close friend and junior partner and residing with him at his request after his wife passed away. He offered me a box of some jewels of my stepmother. It is with him”

“Did he say anything more about the dead man?”

“He mentioned that my dad was suffering from sleep apnea and passed away in his sleep last night He mentioned that my dad trusted him much and confided all personal and business details including about me.”

When the uncle interrupted to say something, the inspector gave him a hard slap asking him to keep quiet and directed the constables to take him away and hold him securely.

The inspector turned to her and said,” Let me clarify matters. I learn this fellow Chelladurai who about a year back inveigled himself to your dad is an evil man. We are checking his antecedents. I do not know about his being a junior partner and am having it checked. He started living here ostensibly to assist him in the chores at home and possibly the store but had an ulterior motive. I learn your trusting dad while grieving the demise of his second wife permitted him to stay with him and was even naïve to reveal to him about his past and all details about you, your wealthy grandma and even his visit to your school etc.”

“My God, I now get the hang of it. How did my dad die? Was it in his sleep as the uncle said?” she asked.

“Brace yourself, Menaka, to hear the bad news. I got an anonymous call early this morning from a public booth informing that your father’s death was not natural but was poisoned by someone living with him. He also revealed how this evil man had ferreted out all personal and business information from your guileless and trusting dad. The wily man’s intention is perhaps to befriend you and rob you of the wealth your father and grandmother left behind. I have already sent the samples of blood for tests and the results are awaited. I have got the funeral arrangements postponed and sent the body for post mortem. I am also taking this man into custody for suspected murder of your dad,” said the inspector softly.

When asked who the informant could be, the inspector said, “We know him and he is honest and reliable. He has been with your dad for decades and works as his Man Friday in the house. He had strong reservations about the credibility of Chelladurai and even broached about it to your dad. Unfortunately, your dad did not heed the caution and reprimanded his servant,” and added after a pause “I learn a hotel room has been booked for you. You can safely stay there.  We will finalize the matter in a couple of days. Contact me on this number in the card in case of need.”

When he stood up and patted her, a sub inspector entered the room and handed over a paper. He glanced at it and said, “Menaka, my worst fears are confirmed. He has been poisoned with a heavy dosage of sleeping tablet in his post prandial drink. We had through the informant secured the glass and the bottle of drink in our possession. There were no visitors from last evening till morning according to security. I am very sorry for you. Do you have any friend or relative in this city to be with you?”

“None, I can manage myself and wish to be left alone in the hotel,” and started crying inconsolably.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Visaka's birthday party (1017)

Visaka felt honestly that her husband should have remained a bachelor and not married her at all. A good man, no doubt, Vignesh was not cut for married life. Wedded to the office and a workaholic, he spent long hours in the office and with the mobile, whenever at home talking office matters.

In these fifteen years of married life, she could remember only three occasions when Vignesh took leave from office to take her out. One was immediately after the wedding, taking her to the various temples that passed for a honeymoon and the other two, when her parents had passed away. But he gave her a lot of freedom to do what pleased her, ample money for running the household and for buying dresses and jewelry that she desired. But he never accompanied her nor did he insist she accompany him to office parties.

It is not that Visaka was not good looking or not highly educated. She was a tall and very beautiful woman with an all-India rank in professional accountancy examination teaching in a college. The problem was his world was very small and revolved around his office. Unfortunately, they had no children to provide occasions for them to be together. It is not that he did not love her. He had a warm affection and high regard for her. But he lacked the finer sensibilities of pleasing the woman and had to be reminded even about their wedding day or birthdays.

 She diverted her mind to literary pursuits and had a couple of novels to her credit. She wrote for all leading magazines and was widely read. She, however, nursed a deep hurt in her heart at the wooden nature of Vignesh despite the mechanical conjugal life they led devoid of demonstrated love.

It was 2 pm on a Saturday when the phone rang at Vignesh’s office. It was Visaka reminding him that it was her birthday and that he had promised to come earlier than usual. He looked at his watch and the note-sheets before him. With a frown on the face and affected tone of warmth he said “Visaka, I am on the verge of finalizing the report to go to the Board tomorrow. I will surely come early but maybe held up a little. Get dressed and be ready. We will have our dinner outside. Thanks, darling, for reminding me.” He took two hours to finish it and meanwhile ignored the calls from his residence. By the time he left, it was 7.30 p.m. and it was drizzling rather heavily outside.

The large parking lot in the basement was deserted as most of the people had left. It was dark when he reached his car. He fumbled for the car keys and found to his dismay that the door would not open. He tried several times and jabbed the door when he heard a voice behind him, “Hey, excuse me, you seem to have a problem.”

Startled Vignesh turned to look at the slightly aged man, big built, in a white shirt that was large for him and with three days’ bristle smiling at him in a twisted manner revealing his yellow teeth. He looked a bit unusual and a chill ran through Vignesh’s spine.

He said “Yes, the door lock is jammed. I am in a hurry to go home now as it is my wife's birthday. But I haven’t seen you here all these years”.

The man came closer and said “I have been here for a very long time. You have not seen me but I see you daily as I see others. I make myself visible only when everybody has left. You should not have stayed   this long especially on this rainy day”

Struck by fear by the uncomprehending words and his unnatural demeanour, Vignesh stood immobilized when the old man said “Move away a little. Let me open the door. Keep the keys with you.” Vignesh immediately moved away looking at this strange man placing his strong hand on the door.  He looked around and observed the parking lot was empty without a soul.

There was a sudden noise of the door ripping away from the car. He looked at the car with its front door missing and could see neither the old man nor the missing door. He had just vanished with the door in a jiffy even as he heard the sound of eerie laughter a little away. He quickly jumped into the car, started the ignition and sped away to the safety of the road. He was sweating profusely when a cold hand touched him on his shoulder.

Vignesh blabbered in fear, “Please do not harm me. My wife would be waiting for me. I have never taken her out for long. After a very long time, I have promised to take her out and make the day a memorable one. Please, I beg you to leave me unharmed.” 

As the cold hand pressed him further and shook him violently, he started howling till he heard Visaka, “Vignesh, what are you blabbering about in sleep? You have been sleeping from 3 p.m. ever since you came home. It is getting late for dinner at the hotel. Get ready soon”

He opened his eyes and saw her beautifully dressed standing before him. There was no sight of the fearful strange man or the car park. He pulled her towards him to embrace her tightly and kissed her till she pulled herself away telling her that the maid was there in the house. “Visaka, I have been a fool all along. I thought my life would be over today even before celebrating your birthday. I realize what I have missed all these days. I promise to give you lot of my time and make our lives a very happy one from this moment.”

She threw her arms over him forgetting her caution about the presence of maid and sobbed “I am so happy today. I was afraid we were moving apart. I thank your scary dream for opening your eyes at last.


Friday, June 16, 2023

All that glitters is not gold

The old woman was living alone in her small house. She was getting a small pension after her husband died. She had no wealth except the small house. Her only son who was working in a hotel kitchen had left for Canada when young to work in a big hotel and rose to become a chef. Initially he used to call the postmaster (it was before mobile phone era) once in three months to enquire about his mother and convey about his wellbeing. This tapered off over a period of years. The last that was heard was that he had married a local woman.

She has been falling sick frequently these days. It is the way of the world for friends and relatives to keep away from the needy, be it of physical or financial help. Luckily, she was a woman of grit and had the courage to live her life alone though it was difficult during periods of sickness.

As she was returning home late one rainy evening by a deserted road, she stumbled in the darkness on a small boy lying under the protruding sunshade of a closed shop. It was wet and damp. The boy had a torn shirt and was shivering from the cold wind. She took pity on him and knelt by his side, feeling his forehead for any fever. The boy moved a little and moaned in pain or hunger that she could not make out. She gave him water from the small bottle she always carried.

Once refreshed he sat up and told her that he had run away from his village and had been roaming in the town for shelter and food. He had not eaten for the last two days. An orphan, he was living with his grandmother in the village. She passed away five days back and there was no one willing to give him shelter.

He said” Grandma, I will do all the work you ask me to do in your house for a handful of food. I cannot bear this hunger anymore. Please retain me as your help.”

She took pity on the boy and took him home in the drizzle. She gave him a towel to dry himself and some clothes to wear. Meanwhile she made a hot broth from rice and gave him a bellyful. She told him "Do not be worried. You are God’s gift to me.I will call you Nandhu You can stay with me. I will put you in the corporation school nearby. Study well. We can be of support to each other. Sleep well.”

Life was running smoothly for Nandhu. He studied well and helped his grandma as he called the old lady in running errands and fetching medicines when she fell sick. The old lady also found a purpose in her life and was no longer despondent as she used to be. She showered her affection on the boy as if he were her own grandson.

Nandhu had a fancy for film music. Gifted with a golden voice, he could imitate and sing very much like the reputed singers. He used to take part in competitions initially in school and later in public forums. Years went by and the boy joined some music director. He became busy and spent all the time with the director, mostly out of town. One day Nandhu explained to his grandma that he could no longer stay with her as he was away most of the days and came home at odd times. He told her he was sad to leave her but assured her that he would take care of her in times of need.

He grew busy and grew to be a reputed playback singer over the years. He came to meet her initially once a few months with a lot of goodies and fruits but these occasional visits stopped after some time. His work took him to Mumbai and he became so busy he hardly had time even for his rest and relaxation.

Meanwhile the old lady deprived of the only company, longed for her ‘grandson’. She became morose with a failing memory and over a period of time she became weak and frail, unable to manage by herself. The neighbours admitted her to an old age home. She was gradually sinking though living in her world of loneliness not muchaware of the happenings around.

When Nandhu, who was now a renowned singer cum music director visited the town for a gala award function, that was graced by all the big and famous, a few close friends could discern certain melancholy on his face. He brushed aside questions whether anything was bothering him. Immediately after the function he excused himself and went in his huge car along with his assistant cum photographer to the house where he lived with his ‘grandma’. When told that she was in an old age home and was in poor health, he rushed there.

 The old age home had never witnessed a car of this length and shine. They had practically no visitors of even relatives let alone eminent and rich men. All the inmates in their dirty semi-clad clothes came rushing out to see who the visitor was. Someone in the road knew the name of the director and soon his name was bandied about loudly along with a swelling crowd.

He rushed in to find his ‘grandma’ in an emaciated condition and fell at her feet sobbing ’Grandma, I have come, your grandson Nandhu. I have come to see you. Do you recognize me, your Nandhu. I am what I am today thanks to your compassion. I cannot forget the hot broth you fed me on the cold and rainy day. Grand ma, call me Nandhu once and tell me that you recognize this fat man?”

She looked at him vacantly with blank eyes tying knots in her torn sari. There was no sign of recognition. The director broke down and hit his head with both hands crying inconsolably and saying, “I am responsible for this pathetic sight. Had I not left you in search of money and fame, things would not have come to such a pass.” He did not notice his assistant was busy with camera all the time.

The head of the home said in a consoling tone that she had not many months to live and assured him that they would take care of her well till her last breath.

The music director replied, “I am giving the home a tidy donation for two reasons, one, is to give her greater physical comforts like a separate room good bed, fan and clothes and the second one for rebuilding and developing the home with greater facilities for its inmates.” The director took out his cheque book and donated a tidy amount and requested the home be named after her.

As he looked at her with sadness, she was still tying knots in her sari. Overcome with grief and sobbing loudly he placed his head on her legs before reluctantly leaving the home.

After the din and noise of his visit died down, the head of the home sat by old woman’s side and gently asked her, “You seem crest fallen. Could you not recognize your grandson?”

The old woman looked at him for long with tears flowing from her eyes and uttered "This is not 'my Nandhu' I knew and brought up. This is a singer who came here craving publicity."

The head of the home, nodding his head, gently ran his hand over her head and said, "Do not worry as we are all here for you."


Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Rajesh's final decision

 “Rajesh, now that you have completed your B. Tech and M Tech from IIT very successfully, what are your future plans?” asked Brigadier Sethuraman. They were in the living room watching TV in a relaxed manner along with Rajesh’s mother Sita.

 When there was no instant response from the Rajesh, the retired Brigadier continued, “You are aware that our family for generations have been serving the nation in defending its integrity and sovereignty. Your grandfather was a general who participated in the 1962 war against China and sacrificed his life when he was directing his men personally in the front. I have heard his father was in the police. Your two uncles, my younger brothers, were also in the army. The one next to me went abroad to serve in the UN army and did not return. Neither the army headquarters nor the local outfit could throw any light to this day on his whereabouts, whether he was killed or taken captive, The youngest brother, who was just in late thirties, was killed when his bunker was bombed. He left behind his young wife and two children. Both of my brothers were honoured by the government with high distinction and medals.”

 “Appa, I know all that as you have told me with pride and with a tinge of sadness umpteen times,” Rajesh intervened.

 “Allow me to complete. Sita, I hope you are listening. Ours is a patriotic family and deemed it a duty and an obligation to serve the country in its defense of the borders. We never flinched because of risks associated with the work. Notwithstanding the two sad events, we are a proud family.

 Why I am repeating all this now is because you are about to take a decision soon. Many go abroad to pursue their studies and work in foreign companies in lucrative positions or join locally prestigious management institutes to equip themselves for high positions with attractive remuneration. I just wanted to know what is in your mind,” said Sethuraman.

 Before Rajesh could reply, Sita intervened to tell, “Our family has contributed to the country’s cause more than its share for two generations. It is time we allow others also to contribute their share.” Turning to her husband, she added” I do not want you to influence Rajesh with your ideas. He is grown up and very smart. Let us allow him to decide for himself what he wants to do,”

Rajesh sat up on the sofa and said in soft voice, “Appa(dad) I took into account all the facts you have said many times and am contemplating working in a major IT company in the US. I had applied to them and received an instant offer. I wished to reveal to you both after their confirmation of my acceptance.”

 “That settles the issue, I have no regrets. I am happy and proud of you,” said Sethuraman. and added, “Rajesh, there is a Carnatic music contest this evening. I have two tickets. Would you accompany me?”.

 “Surely, I will join you. You know my abiding interest in Carnatic music, having learnt it for a few years. God willing, I intend to pursue my interest after settling down in a job.”

Rajesh in his white ethnic Kurta looked very handsome as he accompanied his dad. As expected, it turned out to be a great concert with the well-known artiste in her melodious voice rendering initially some familiar pieces that he liked. She then took up raga Bhairavi and sang elaborately and leisurely traversing over it to bring out the different shades and beauty of the raga Next a popular Kriti was taken up followed by amazing Kalpana swaras in lovely patterns followed by a brisk avartan by percussionists. There was a brief pause

He was seated in the first row reserved for VIPs. Just then a young lady passed by Rajesh brushing his legs with her sari pallu and the gentle perfume that wafted from her was pleasant. By the time he turned to look at her she had gone a few yards away and he could get only a glimpse of her silhouette in the dim light. She seemed quite tall and elegant in her gait. To his great surprise the girl walked up the steps to the rostrum on the dais.

 As the lights were switched on, she started addressing the audience.

“Dear Ladies and gentleman,

You must all be aware by now from the banners and notice boards the purpose of holding this fabulous concert today. This concert has been sponsored by an NGO that is working for the cause of the families of our warriors who have lost their lives or been incapacitated. While the governments both at Centre and State have their own systems of reaching out to the distressed families, we supplement their efforts to meet the families’ special and varying needs. We have often come across many situations that are grim and pathetic. When we think of the patriotism of the valiant soldiers that impelled them to fight at the hostile terrains of the war fronts risking their lives and their sacrifice willing to suffer for safeguarding the integrity of the nation, no amount of our help to their families would be adequate.

I am Ranjita and happen to be the daughter of the President of the NGO and know the situation more acutely as I am myself a war-widow having lost my husband at the war front six months after our honey moon. Luckily, I come from a well to do family and do not need any financial support. But I know it is not the case with most of the distressed families when they lose their breadwinners.

I would be failing in my duty if do not express my admiration and gratitude to the celebrated musician of the day and the equally popular accompanists for coming forward to perform without any honorarium keeping the noble cause in mind

I would request all of you to contribute as much as you can for this worthy cause. The details of the website and links for making donations are on the notice board and also on the reverse of your tickets.

Thank you all for attending the concert that will resume now. Jai Hind !”

When Rajesh and Sethuraman were back at home and having dinner, Sita said, “Rajesh I am very happy that you took the right decision to go to US breaking the family tradition of joining the army.”

 “Amma, there has been a drastic change in my mind since this evening thanks to appa taking me to the concert. I was greatly impressed with the young lady’s talk about the NGO and the work it is doing for the cause of soldiers killed in army. Amma, I agree with you that our family has made adequate contribution on the fighting fronts. I have now decided to explore the opportunities to work in the army not in the fronts but in IT sector using my deep knowledge of software towards the cause of missing warriors, locating them where possible and also reach families of warriors killed to help them quickly from the official side and with proper approval through voluntary organizations like the one the young lady spoke today.”

Sethuraman literally jumped from the chair and exclaimed,” Sabash, you are not breaking the family tradition of serving in the army,”

 Sita was smiling when Rajesh softly said looking at her, “I am also thinking on my part to the cause of giving a new life to a war widow subject to factors like age, qualification and compatibility.” Rajesh did not miss the mischievous grin on his dad’s face.







Thursday, June 1, 2023

The missing egg

 Many of you, especially the current readers, might have missed reading this humorous story. about roadside magic shows that were common four or five decades back.

Raju's house was close to the maidan abutting the market. An eight-year-old boy, he heard the vigorous beats of a drum and ran out to see where the sound came from. A lean and lanky man was setting up a tripod on the ground with bamboo poles and a woman, presumably his wife, was playing on the drum loudly and at great speed to attract attention. There was a young girl in colorful dress and a monkey with a cap on its head held in tight leash by her. There were assorted things near the tripod, a couple of steel rings, black cloth, a skull, a mud flower pot and a few other things that Raju could not decipher. People trickled in one by one to watch the magic and acrobatic show and stood there forming a large circle

The show did not start waiting for the crowd to swell in number. Meanwhile the girl danced with the monkey aping her with its own dance movements sending the watching crowd into splits. The monkey did some acrobatic tricks including jumping through a burning ring. Raju was sitting in the front row watching with keen interest the tricks. The magician made the young girl walk on a tight rope tied high with a bamboo stick on her hand to balance while the audience watched with bated breath and fear that the young thing may fall down.

With enough crowd assembled, the magician got into a ring that was hardly a foot in diameter and extricated himself with great difficulty and dexterity. He planted a mango seed in the mud inside a flower pot and covered it with a basket promising to show a mango plant with mango fruit a little while later.

He called a short man from the crowd and hypnotized him after making him lie down on the ground. He covered the man’s face with a red cloth and asked the man to tell whatever he was indicating. He touched a bald man's head and asked what it was and the short guy correctly said "vazhukkai thalai"(bald head). He touched a policeman's shirt and asked who he was. The short guy said a policeman. The magician held a woman's hand and asked whether the man is wearing white shirt or blue one. Flash came the correct reply that it was a woman in green sari to the great merriment and applause of the crowd.

The magician called the attention of all to the mango trick and accompanied to loud beating of the drum lifted the basket that covered the flower pot and lo there was a tiny mango plant with a small mango hanging from it. The crowd clapped its hands in utter disbelief. 

The magician called anyone from the crowd who would volunteer to be part of magic. Raju, who always wanted to be the cynosure of all eyes, stood up and lifted his hand. The man led him near the tripod. Meanwhile the girl and the monkey in tow with a tin container in hand went around collecting the coins and notes that the onlookers offered.

The woman beat the drum with gusto for a minute or two. The magician announced that the boy will soon lay eggs to the great amusement of the crowd and embarrassment of Raju. He wished to return to the crowd but was shy of backing out. The magician lifted his bare hands for the crowd to see and patted the shorts of Raju to show there was nothing inside. He uttered some mumbo jumbo as he walked around Raju to the great anticipation of the onlookers. He then passed his hands on the back of the boy and lingered at his bum for a few seconds more as if he was pulling out something. When he opened his hand there was an egg! The crowd broke into raptures as they witnessed Raju with a shy smile on his face. In deference to the wishes of the crowd, the magician retrieved another egg and said that he was not taking out the third egg. Raju started crying pleading with him to remove it too but the magician smilingly refused with the crowd in splits.

 Meanwhile the girl and the monkey had completed two rounds collecting the money. The crowd slowly dispersed. Raju lingered longer and the magician told him to go home and not to worry. Raju was not convinced and was still sobbing.

When he returned home later, he narrated the events to his mom and asked her to feel his stomach and bum for any egg. She laughed hysterically after passing her hand and said how gullible he was in believing such nonsense. She said it was all some illusion created by the magician turning the attention of the crowd to something else. But he was not convinced.

Raju wished to make sure and went into the toilet. As he sat on the WC, he heard a plop sound. Anxiously he looked down and found a white egg floating. He screamed for his mom who came rushing that something was amiss. He said “Look here. I told you but you didn’t believe me. It is there See the egg. " She looked into WC and said "You are imagining. There is no egg. Do not go to such magic shows and volunteer yourself. Go to the dining table and have the upma. It is getting cold."

Raju stood confused when he saw no egg this time in the WC but ran his hands over his tummy to make doubly sure.